Before I get into my summarization of the Brewtopia Fest, a word first on the pub crawl that preceded it. Having found out that Spuyten Duyvil (which I will decode for the masses as being pronounced as though the “uy” was “eye”, more or less) was closed in the afternoons, we gathered our front and made our way to Mugs Ale House. Thankfully, that establishment was air-conditioned, as the humidity was a wee bit oppressive for my liking.
Volgon, DavidP, eyedrinkale, mittenstein and myself collected in a corner. The first thing we noticed was that the hard-to-find and highly-respected Sierra Nevada Pale Bock was on tap. Three of us ordered pints of that one, while eyedrinkale settled for a 1994 Anchor Our Special Ale. Mugs is a clean pub with a solid beer list. There were a few interesting vintages to be found and enough oldies to keep me happy when I tapped them out of new beers after the Pale Bock. Well, almost tapped them out. I wasn’t counting the Brooklyn Organic Porter since a stop at that brewery was in the offing a little later. Not that they had the Organic Porter there, but we thought they would.
After a couple hours at Mugs, we went onwards to Spuyten. This place reminds me a lot of Smokeless Joe’s in Toronto. It’s long and narrow, with a big bottle list, half a dozen micros on tap, one hand-pump and a limited menu. The cheese and salami board was the big hit here – with cheeses like the delicious French, sheep’s-milk mountain cheese Ossau-Iraty and Maytag Blue (hard to find for us Canadians) it was hard to go wrong.
Austinpowers dropped by to share a few pints with us before retiring, and we casually explored the bottled list – Fantôme, Bink, stuff like that. The biggest difference between Spuyten and Joe’s to me was the back yard at the former. The latter has a front patio made for people-watching, but the back patio with ample shade underneath the trees makes for a nice touch in concrete-and-brick Brooklyn.
After Spuyten, we were all feeling pretty good and hit up the Brooklyn Brewery. The place was jammed to the gills. I tried an experimental beer called Scorcher that was basically Cascade juice (relatively sweet Cascade juice, mind you). They also had their Blanche on, the debut of which was the reason for my previous visit to the Brooklyn Brewery seven years ago. Loved it then, love it now.
I have to admit, I was feeling a bit rough the next morning when Brewtopia started. I thought that I’d quit while I was ahead, but the truth is, when I got back to New York I met this Korean guy who had just arrived. He’d never left Korea before so I couldn’t have this guy spend the first night of his travelling career sitting around being bored, so it was down the pub we went.
I arrived at Brewtopia to the sight of many workers slaving away on the setup. Tables were being set up, beer and ice put in place, trucks unloaded and more fun of that nature. I jumped into the fray and didn’t even have a chance to try a beer until it was almost showtime.
The show opened with me manning the Ratebeer table. I ended up quickly being corralled to work the Wagner Valley booth, plugging their Triplebock to anyone who’d listen. Their Summer Sail Wheat was pretty cool, too. It had a somewhat unintentional gueuze note, but because it was more gueuze flavour than acidity, it just added a neat layer to the beer. Not necessarily the sort of thing that can be replicated, but adding a little lambic to give your wheat beer life seems like a pretty good idea. Of course, I think brettanomyces should be added to any beer. Add it to Trappist single and you get Orval. Add it to cherry-flavoured golden ale and you get Kriek de Ranke.
Some of the beers I sampled in the afternoon were Southern Tier IS, IJndejaars, Black Ghost (I was pretty much the only person disappointed by this one), and Casta Milenia. It was pretty quiet, and I worked a fair bit.
The break between sessions was the hardest time. I was pretty tired, and knew that if I was to last the night, I couldn’t really dip too much into the beers. That said, Shelton was trying to get rid of all their opened bottles, so I had no choice but to do my part. I also checked out Blue Point – they’d left the star Oatmeal Stout at home (sold out at the distributor I was told) and I skipped the Toasted Lager because I was told it wasn’t 100%. Fair enough, it really wouldn’t be fair to the brewer. I was urged to try the Blueberry, so despite my misgivings about Blueberry beers I gave it a go. OK, the aroma was gross – like blueberry muffin – but the palate showed promise. The fruitiness was mellow, and complemented the beer. That is one of two main approaches to fruit beer, and if you’re talking blueberries, that’s probably the best one. It reminded me a bit of Thomas Kemper Blueberry Helles (if anyone remembers that).
I focused a lot of attention on local beers in the second session. There were actually a couple less than I was expecting at Brewtopia, which was a bit of a shame. Black Forest makes a nice Hefeweizen, Chelsea a nutty Oatmeal Stout, Malt River has an apricotty Pale Ale, and though I didn’t personally get excited about it, the Barley Wine from Heartland earned a lot of praise from festivalgoers I spoke with. Southern Tier made a big impression with their Hop Sun – billed as a hoppy American Wheat but much closer in style to an English Golden Bitter. Ramapo Valley checked with a quality Porter and a really nice Paranoia Pilsner. Add to this Ramstein Blonde and the local guys weren’t messing around.
At the end of the fest, things got really hairy. A few of us had brought bottles for the RB crew to try, and we were also trying to help with the Shelton table. We had AleSmith Grand Cru, Hansje Drinker, Bièropholie Imperial Stout, and even a Barrel-Aged Speedway.
Surprisingly, there were no ill effects the next day. I took the day off from beer for the most part, and headed for the beach. I could have had a lot of different Russian lagers down there, but decided against it – kind of pointless as I’m going to Russia and the same beers will be a lot cheaper and fresher there. I had time in the afternoon to pop into Chelsea Brewing for a Cream Stout and Henry Hudson IPA.
Heck, I also had time to visit either Heartland or Times Square as well, but I didn’t know that my flight would be delayed so long that I sat at the airport for three hours twiddling my thumbs.
All in all, a great three days in New York. The festival looked darn fine from my point of view, and it’s definitely something to look forward to next year.